Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Olympia Snowe (Republican) will Retire! Dang it!

A sensible, intelligent Republican is stepping down because she doesn’t like the direction of current politics.
by Charlie Leck

“Unfortunately, I do not realistically expect the partisanship of recent years in the Senate to change over the short term. So at this stage of my tenure in public service, I have concluded that I am not prepared to commit myself to an additional six years in the Senate.” [Olympia J. Snowe, U.S. Senator from Maine]

Olympia Snowe is a politician of the sort you’d like them all to be. If you want to know more about Snowe, here’s a good story in this morning’s Washington Post. On the other hand, you all know how to search in Google these days.

As for me, I’m really sorry to see her go. She has always been a voice of reason and one eager to do the right thing rather than the political thing. She is a rare bird among Republicans and, perhaps, among politicians in general. I have immense admiration for her and always enjoyed hearing her speak because she was worth listening to.

There are strong feelings among Democrats that they might be able to win this Senate seat in Maine. I hope so, but that is really beyond the point right now. The nation needs to salute the gentlelady from Maine who served so brilliantly.

The Washington Post summed up the political situation this way.

Given her continued popularity, her retirement is a rebuke to the partisanship that has come to define the political times in Washington. Snowe’s willingness to compromise and work with the other side has frequently put her out of step with her party, and Democrats have often looked to her as one of the Republicans willing to break ranks with the GOP leadership. Snowe’s reputation as a moderate has grown as fewer and fewer senators on either side of the aisle have been willing to take bipartisan actions.

A very grateful nation says thank you to Olympia Snowe!

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Santorum takes a hard turn to the right!

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum has decided to move even farther to the right and has moved out there on the very, very edge – right out on the ledge!
by Charlie Leck

Is Rick Santorum nuts – or what? The Washington Post editorialized this morning that “Santorum shows he’s the wrong man to be President.”

“When he so misreads Mr. Kennedy, when he perceives a war that does not exist, he shows a lack of appreciation for the first amendment. When he accuses President Obama of harboring a ‘phony theology’ – ‘not a theology based on the Bible – a different theology’ – it seems he does not understand the line between policy and religion. Mr. Santorum later explained that he was not questioning Mr. Obama’s faith, only his environmental policy. But theology means ‘the study of God and of the relations between God, humankind and the universe.’”

I hope you caught the above in all its humorous glory! Mr. Santorum was only questioning Mr. Obama’s environmental policy. This man is living out there in La-La Land.

Here’s how Nia-Malika Henderson opened a story in the Washington Post on Sunday…

DETROIT — Rick Santorum has opened up a new and provocative front in the political culture wars as he boldly tries to cast the race for the White House as a battle between the secular and the religious.
In back-to-back speeches over the weekend, the candidate described President Obama as “a snob” for focusing on the importance of a college education and disparaged the idea of a separation between church and state by attacking President John F. Kennedy, who made it a key point in his 1960 campaign.

Santorum said that he wanted to “throw up” after reading the late John F. Kennedy’s famous speech to Catholic bishops back in 1960.

Santorum insists on driving himself further and further out on the fringes of politics – something that’s often called “political suicide.”

The above quoted passages are not even the worst of his remarks. Santorum has had a brain glitch such as the ones usually only associated with Representative Michel Bachmann.

Here’s how Santorum went on as if dizzy and unable to use his brain…

“I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,” he said. “The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country.”
“True happiness comes from doing God’s will,” he said as the audience at Central Baptist Church cheered and gave him a nearly minute-long standing ovation. “It comes from not doing what you want to do, but doing what you ought to do.”

Do you think, Mr. Santorum, if you don’t mind me asking, that it may be God’s will to see to it that President Obama is reelected? To achieve His purposes it appears that He has affected your brain and stopped it from working any more. God’s power is immense, Mr. Santorum! He has struck you dumb! Dumb!

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Monday, February 27, 2012

The Professor and the Madman

There is nothing like an unbelievable true story!
by Charlie Leck

I’ve posted over 1400 blogs here and sometimes I can’t remember whether I’ve earlier written about a specific subject. I do search my blogs in an attempt to make sure I don’t duplicate subjects, but sometimes my searches are not completely thorough. So this week I was cleaning up my library shelves and I came upon a wonderful book that I read approximately ten years ago. I count it among the most astounding and remarkable true stories I’ve ever read.
By Simon Winchester, The Professor and the Madman, the story is entirely spell-binding and surprising. Let me present the Preface here in its entirety (I hope this is legal!) and it will likely capture you as it captured me.
Popular myth has it that one of the most remarkable conversations in modern literary history took place on a cool and misty late autumn afternoon in 1896, in the small village of Crowthorne in the county of Berkshire.l
One of the parties to the colloquy was the formidable Dr. James Murray, the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. On the day in question he had traveled fifty miles by train from Oxford to meet an enigmatic figure named Dr W. C. Minor, who was among the most prolific of the thousands of volunteer contributors whose labors lay at the core of the dictionary’s creation.
For very nearly twenty years beforehand these two men corresponded regularly about the finer points of English lexicography, but they had never met. Dr. Minor seemed never willing or able to leave his home at Crowthorne, never willing to come to Osford. He was unable to offer any kind of explanation, or to do more than offer his regrets.
Dr. Murray, who himself was rarely free from the burdens of his work at his dictionary headquarters, the famous Scriptorium in Oxford, had nonetheless long dearly wished to see and thank his mysterious and intriguing helper. And particularly so by the late 1890s, with the dictionary well on its way to be half completed: Official honors were being showered upon all its creators, and Murray wanted to make sure that all those involved – even men so apparently bashful as Dr. Minor – were recognized for the valuable work they had done. He decided he would pay a visit.

Once he had made up his mind to go, he telegraphed his intentions, adding that he would find it most convenient to take a train that arrived at Crowthorne Station – then actually known as Wellington College Station – just after two on a certain Wednesday in November. Dr. Minor sent a wire by return to say that he was indeed expected and would be made most welcome. On the journey from Oxford the weather was fine, the trains were on time, the auguries, in short, were good.
At the railway station a polished landau and a liveried coachman were waiting, and with James Murray aboard they clip-clopped back through the lanes of rural Berkshire. After twenty minutes or so the carriage turned up a long drive lined with tall poplars, drawing up eventually outside a huge and rather forbidding red-brick mansion. A solemn servant showed the lexicographer upstairs, and into a book-lined study, where behind an immense mahogany desk stood a man of undoubted importance. Dr. Murray bowed gravely, and launched into the brief speech of greeting that he had so long rehearsed.
“A very good afternoon to you, sir. I am Dr. James Murray of the London Philological Society, and Editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. It is indeed an honour and a pleasure to at long last make your acquaintance – for you must be, kind sire, my assiduous helpmeet, Dr. W. C. Minor?”
There was a brief pause, a momentary air of mutual embarrassment. A clock ticked loudly. There were muffled footsteps in the hall. A distant clank of keys. And then the man behind the desk cleared his throat, and he spoke:
“I regret, kind sir, that I am not. It is not at all as you suppose. I am in fact the Governor of the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Dr. Minor is most certainly here. But he is an inmate. He has been a patient here for more than twenty years. He is our longest-staying resident.”

Although the official government files relating to this case are secret, and have been locked away for more than a century, I have recently been allowed to see them. What follows is the strange, tragic, yet spiritually uplifting story they reveal.

My wife likes true stories. She rarely reads fiction. When we go see a terrific movie of adventure and intrigue, she almost always leaves the theater asking: “Do you suppose that’s a true story?”

Rarely do true stories match the excitement and complexity of fiction (mind you, I didn’t say “never” did I?). We all know true stories that are “stranger than fiction” or just plain more interesting than fiction, but The Professor and the Madman may be the best and most unusual one that I have ever read.
Did you ever think that a story about “the making of the Oxford English Dictionary” could possibly be spell-binding?

William Chester Minor was not always insane. His parents were missionaries. He attended Yale University and eventually became a medical doctor. He was a volunteer during the Civil War; and perhaps it was in the war that he grew mad. He was discharged because of mental instability and paranoia. He unsuccessfully sought relief from his madness by traveling.

On a chilly, February morning in the Lambeth section of London, while it was still very dark, Doctor Minor, consumed by a deep attack of paranoia, shot a man dead who he thought was attacking him. William Chester Minor was sentence to spend his life in an asylum for criminally insane. It was there that he read about the incredible project, the creation of a dictionary of the English language. There was a call for volunteers.

I recommend the remarkable book to you!

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Karl Barth Preaches!

“Today we may all celebrate a triumph!”
by Charlie Leck

“See what I have done and accomplished, while you were busy with figures and studies, arguing and getting angry, crying and sighing.”
                                                [Karl Barth, in a 1917 sermon: Colossians 2:15]

Karl Barth was a super-star in the theological field. He was a conservative – nearly, but not quite, a Christian fundamentalist; yet, he was admired and seriously read by liberals (left-wingers) as well as conservatives.

After reading the Dietrich Bonhoeffer biography by Eric Metaxas, in which Barth played a significant part, I asked myself, “Why not, go back and read some of his earliest sermons?” So, I did.

[The Early Preaching of Karl Barth*]
The sermons I read were all preached by a young Pastor Barth in his first church assignment in Safenwil, Switzerland (population 1,625), between 1917 and 1921. The Great War raged for a couple of those years, but the land in which he dwelled at that time remained staunchly neutral and uninvolved. However, Barth had just come from a university and theological seminary in the heart of Germany; and most of the professors there, much to Barth’s great disappointment, had signed documents supporting the war effort by Germany.

As William Willimon says in the introduction to the book, “…by the time Barth began his pastorate, what had seemed like a prosperous, secure time of cultural self-confidence was a sham.” And I was able to see, in some of these early sermons, Barth’s struggle to proclaim the good news of the gospel while such a struggle went on all across the continent.

Barth was a thinker of great depth and he was struggling with his beliefs because of the magnitude and cruelty of the war. He had begun a search for God and faith all over again and I got to see and feel that struggle in these sermons by a very young – even very immature – pastor. The power of both his struggle and his thinking must have been an incredible – and perhaps confusing – experience for his unsophisticated, rural congregation. None of them, of course, could have imagined that they were listening to a man who would one day be regarded as one of the mightiest Christian thinkers in history.

The following is a simple, autobriographical aside that you could easily jump right over (and, perhaps, should jump right over…)
It was amusing for me – particularly for me – to read this comment in Willimon’s introduction: “More than once Barth’s church council complained that he did not visit enough.”
 Is that not the great complaint of nearly every Protestant layman in every Protestant congregation the world has ever known? If you are a Presbyterian, or a Methodist, or a Lutheran, Baptist or Moravian, you understand this business. Members of these Protestant congregations want their pastor to coming visiting.
 It is one of the complaints that riled me and drove me quickly from the ranks of the clergy. How I remember the scenes, as a young, inexperienced pastor, of my visits to the homes of members of my congregation. I would first telephone and make an appointment for a given time for my visit. That seemed only fair. Time was needed to freshen up the house, you know, and I would never want to walk in on a couple that had just had a fight or who had just risen from a morning of love-making. The people I warned of my visit never seemed that enthused that I was coming and, once there, they never seem that enthused that I had arrived. Conversation was almost always strained (and that could well have been my own fault) and very serious in tone and manner (and that also could well have been my own fault). I tried to make these pastoral visits in the beginning of my short career as a minister, but they eventually ranked very low on scale of things I always seemed inclined to do – mainly because those I visited didn’t really seem that comfortable to have me in their homes. My visits got to be so infrequent that the deacons of my church asked me to keep a log of my daily work so that I could produce evidence that I just didn’t have time to make these home calls. My favorite work in my parish was out on the streets. I loved walking the urban neighborhood so I could get to know people – and especially the people who wouldn’t dream of coming to our church – and the people who ran the little corner stores and the bars and the dry-cleaning establishment. And then, my second favorite activity was the preparation of my weekly sermons – hours and hours of time spent trying to sculpt a message and a proclamation about the heart and soul of Christianity – the wonderful news that we were loved and the awesome responsibility that such news put upon us. The deacons didn’t much like the results of my log and the time I spent not visiting in the homes of my parishioners. They didn’t think it was important that I visit with street people and people who weren’t members. They thought I spent far too much time preparing my sermons. “Visit us in our homes more,” the board would plead with me. I argued that I was always available if parishioners called me to visit – invited me to visit – or if they were in need of a conversation with me.
 I have never written out before just why my career in the ministry was so short (three years and three months); but there it is in its stark nakedness. There was only one thing I missed about leaving the work and that was the time I spent in preparation to preach and then the actual delivery of the sermons themselves. (This does not a great pastor make! It doesn’t even make one into a very good preacher, I don’t suppose.)

Barth’s time as a pastor did not go very smoothly. One of his members left the congregation after the pastor scolded him for letting a confirmation party get out of hand at his house (the kids got into the liquor cabinet). He hated ecclesiastical meetings and conferences of the organized, regional church. He participated in a protest parade with organized workers and he was rebuked for doing it. Barth simply withdrew from most of the pastoral responsibilities and concentrated on an in-depth study of Paul’s letter to the Romans. This concentration resulted in two significant volumes of exegesis on that epistle that remain highly favored by theological students. They were considered scholarly triumphs.

It’s not surprising that Barth jumped at the invitation from the theological school at Göttigen to join its faculty in 1921.

But, let me say this about his sermons: My, oh my, they are wonderful. Incredible! I cannot believe what Barth says about the boredom and disinterest with which his congregation received them. When I read them I can almost hear the young, challenging pastor shouting the words out for his congregation to hear in celebration and joy. How fortunate they were to sit there in that little church as he preached.

Colossians 2:15
“He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him.”

The above is the biblical text for one of these early sermons that Barth preached on Easter morning in the Spring of 1917, while war raged over the continent. I read the sermon in amazement and sometimes slapped myself in the head in celebration. “And I thought I was so damned good!”

This, I thought, is the way biblical preaching is supposed to be. The preacher lets the scripture speak and provides simple background music for it.

I’ve timed the sermon. It must have taken Barth a half hour to present it. That’s more time than a preacher these days is allowed. One could get away with that kind of time if one was terribly, terribly good. As a gift, I’d like to present the entire sermon here for you – for you to read and enjoy as much as I did; however, copyright law forbids that. In lieu, I’ll just give you a teeny taste of this delicacy by including here just a few quotations and some comment.

“See what I have done and accomplished, while you, living your lives in utter seriousness, put knowing expression on your faces, spoke smart judgments, and threw up your hands to give them emphasis. Now look what has happened in the meantime and rejoice: Christ is risen!”

I imagine myself in the congregation. Wouldn’t I need to sit up as he spoke these words? Wouldn’t my eyes widen? Wouldn’t I squint and wonder?

“In the Bible it is called a triumph. Do you know what a triumph is? In olden times when a general conquered an enemy that threatened a whole city, at his return a triumph was prepared for him. An honorary arch was built, as for example the one that can be seen today in Rome that was built for the emperor Titus, when he conquered Jerusalem. Through the streets and under the blare of trumpets the victor marched in glorious procession. And after him were led out – to use the words of Paul in our text – the enemy’s rulers and those with power, disrobed of all their royal magnificence, stripped of weapons, now only humble witnesses to the victor’s glory. Once so high, mighty and dangerous, now they are the docile subjects of the one who mastered them! Perhaps beside them were also led out wild animals from the conquered lands, bears, lions, or wolves, or a proud elephant with its long tusks, all chained and controlled, unable to harm anyone. And those were followed by the general’s exhilarated soldiers. …Then all who could crowded the streets, and a great jubilation surged around the victor and rose to heaven, honoring the one who had prevented and overcome the danger that threatened.”

Oh, my! Can’t you imagine sitting there and listening to the ringing words of triumph and visualizing the great celebration?

Oh, my! You do know what is coming!

“That is Easter! God has done all that in Christ, by awakening him from the dead. The resurrection was the issue of the great battle to which Christ had gone up to Jerusalem [Mark 10:33].”

Goodness! A great climactic conclusion is approaching. I can hear the sound of blaring trumpets and the singing of vast choirs (as if of angels).

“That is the triumph in which we today may join. We are invited to be spectators, to view this triumph. An old world has collapsed, and in Christ a new world has opened. The old person (without God) has been carried to the grave; the new person in God has entered existence in Christ. How simple, how innocuous all that frightened us has become – if we see it from that viewpoint! How all that frightened us is led out publicly; subjected kings, tamed beasts!

“…Indeed, why should we not let ourselves be drawn into the victory that we celebrate today?”

It is important to remember, that as Barth preached these words, there was a great booming of guns off in the distance. The congregation could not hear them; yet they knew what was happening and their souls were troubled. The contrast that Barth drew in symbols was not missed by the congregation either. Neither, I hope, was the message that promised, in spite of the agonies of war, some great triumph that could be found in Christ.

This is my Sunday morning gift to you! In a world of such violence and hateful war there is victory and triumph.

*Barth, Karl: The Early Preaching of Karl Barth (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2009)

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Maryland Approves Same-Sex Marriages

NEWSFLASH! Maryland has approved marriage between same-sex couples! Hooray!
by Charlie Leck

My shortest blog EVER.
Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley will sign a bill passed by his legislature that will allow same-sex marriages in his state. [Click here if you want to read a Washington Post story about the new law.]

Here in Minnesota we have to endure a vote on an amendment to our constitution which will disallow such marriages.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

Santorum II

My title sounds like some kind of Gregorian Chant, doesn’t it?
by Charlie Leck

Rick Santorum has an enormous problem. His mouth goes off involuntarily before his brain kicks in. He is slightly (and only slightly) more intellectual than Michele Bachman. There are so many Santorum comments out there in the public that he would like to withdraw. It is a little frightening to think that a large number of people are giving serious consideration to this guy as a possible President of the United States.

I just wonder if he thinks very much at all about some of the outrageous things he says. After accusing the President of a “phony theology” he is now saying that he doesn’t question the President’s faith. Hmm! What?

But the biggest gaffe comes from his comments about involuntary euthanasia in the Netherlands. (I really can’t make this stuff up! Santorum shouldn’t either.)

“In the Netherlands, people wear different bracelets if they are elderly. And the bracelet is: ‘Do not euthanize me.’ Because they have voluntary euthanasia in the Netherlands but half of the people who are euthanized — ten percent of all deaths in the Netherlands — half of those people are euthanized involuntarily at hospitals because they are older and sick. And so elderly people in the Netherlands don’t go to the hospital. They go to another country, because they are afraid, because of budget purposes, they will not come out of that hospital if they go in there with sickness.”— [Former senator Rick Santorum, at the American Heartland Forum in Columbia, Missouri, Feb. 3, 2012]

Mr. Santorum is clearly accusing the Netherlands of euthanizing many older sick people. His charge: 10 percent of all deaths in the Netherlands are the result of euthanasia and half of those are involuntary!

What? That’s a serious charge! I… I… I… I just can’t believe it!

How does the Netherlands react to the charge? A headline appeared in Holland quickly after Santorum made the charge: RICK SANTORUM THINKS HE KNOWS THE NETHERLANDS: MURDER OF THE ELDERLY ON A GRAND SCALE.

The facts!
Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands under very strict guidelines. However, it is a very uncommon form of death. 2.3 percent of all deaths in 2010 resulted under those guidelines. More than 80 percent of those deaths happened in the person’s home under a doctor’s care. More than 80 percent of those euthanized were suffering from cancer.

What about the bracelet? Appears to be rumor or gossip that Santorum bought into!

Why did he make the comment in the first place? Probably because he wants government to stay out of health care. And, it leaves certain implications hanging out there for the voter to worry about.

Like Michel Bachmann, Santorum reaches for the wildest stories he can find to support his arguments and the facts be damned. He can always apologize for what he said later!

That’s not the kind of President the country needs! I just don’t know why so many people still buy into him.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Santorum Just Goes Too Far

Rick Santorum doesn’t have a lot of depth. If you listen carefully to him, you can really pick it up. He’s a lightweight as a thinker.
by Charlie Leck

I think Rick Santorum should be embarrassed to go on the big stage and do his thing. He doesn’t have much depth and he appears to be stuck in some pretty heavy muck; yet, he doesn’t have any quit and he goes unabashedly on and on. (Make a point to take careful notice of this tonight in the Arizona debate!)

His latest claims that President Obama follows a “phony theology” really gets to me. [See very brief blog post by Felicia Sonmez in the Washington Post] This is the guy who sees devils and demons everywhere. His concept of theology is total acceptance of far right priests and teachers in his Catholic faith. He’s got a lot of the bright, Catholic theologians wincing.

Santorum claims Obama’s theology is not based on the Bible. So now, Santorum’s a biblical scholar, too.

Since when did we start giving presidential candidates biblical examinations? It may be one of the last things we want to do.

Just examine some of the so-called biblical things Santorum has been spewing lately and you’ll get a quick picture of a fellow way out on the eccentric, far-right, literalist, fundamental wing of Christianity. He makes faith look silly and empty; but this is a guy who intellectually is running on empty, so it’s not surprising.

Santorum has been reminded of a speech he gave four years ago at the small Ave Maria University in Florida. The speech was full of Satan and devils. Today, when pressed by media questions, he’s not backing away from that speech.

“If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age?”

Of course, the answer to that question, in Santorum’s mind, is the United States. I guess, but I have trouble putting myself in Satan’s mind. Maybe he likes better the babes who can be found strolling on the French Riviera. Maybe he likes the wide open style of Brazil or the new and fantastic opportunities in China! But, Santorum says it’s America!

“The place where he was in my mind most successful, first successful was in academia. He understood the pride of smart people.”

Do you need a little translation help with that one? Try this: “I’m not very smart, so I don’t have a lot of pride. I don’t qualify for academia, so I needn’t worry about Satan.”


“This is a spiritual war and the Father of lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies, Satan, would have his sights on: A good, decent, powerful, influential country – the United States of America.”

And, mind you, there are people out there worried about Romney’s religion!

This folks is the current front runner (and the operative word here is “current”) in the Republican Party race for the presidential nomination.

God bless America!

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Democracy is Not All About Receiving

Democracy is also about giving and that “we” has a greater value than “I”…

Former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson has just published another blog – finally – after about a month since the previous one. The Governor is one of the brightest hopes we have in politics today. He calls us back to a time when politics had more heart and hope. Politics weren’t perfect back then and there was plenty of hard fighting going on; yet politics were more hopeful and the process seemed, in the end, to work better.

I was very struck by this comment that Governor Carlson made in this latest blog…

“In so many ways they (Walter Mondale and Al Quie) understood what we have yet to learn and that is that democracy is not all about receiving but also giving and that “we” has greater value than “I”. Governing is not about personal or party victories but rather a shared responsibility protective of our children’s future. Therein lies the greater good.”

Be sure to read Governor Carlson’s latest blog, Can We Learn from Two Minnesota Giants.

We need to hear from Carlson more often. If you read his blog, leave a comment for him and tell him to write more frequently. I don’t know how much energy he has left, but he could be a major force in putting politics back on track in Minnesota. Oh, how we need his leadership!

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BONHOEFFER by Eric Metaxas

I read through this biography by Eric Metaxas very slowly, trying to study it as much as read it.
by Charlie Leck

Eric Metaxas is a good writer – as least of the biography. His earlier book, Amazing Grace, about William Wilberforce (and, in many ways, about John Newton also) was a tremendous commercial success and led to the extraordinary cinema by the same name. Last year another biography by Metaxas hit the best-seller list – Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet and Spy.

I finished the book up early last week and closed it with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. The book closes with the account of his execution in April, 1945, and then recounts the memorial service for him at Holy Trinity Brompton Church in London. Bonhoeffer’s parents listened to the service on the radio from their home in England. The gospel lesson was from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.

“Beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; and ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles.” [from the Sermon on the Mount]

I set the book aside for a few days, clearing away some strong emotions and then I went back and reread sections of it that I had marked for rereading.

Over the years, I’ve read an awful lot about Bonhoeffer and an awful lot of Bonhoeffer’s writings. Nevertheless, the book by Metaxas seemed fresh and new. It moved me and pleased me and I recommend it fully to any of you who would like a full, rich and inspirational account of Bonhoeffer’s life.

Essentially, that is the conclusion of this particular blog. However, I am appending a letter to it that I wrote in answer to an email I received from a young man in Germany (Wiemar, Thuringia) who wondered if I could answer some questions for him in his effort to complete a paper that was a requirement for his graduation from high school. Robert had read some of my Mississippi Blogs about my experiences in that state in 1964. He is writing a paper about the Civil Rights movement in America and wanted to know if I would take the time to answer seven (7) questions for him. If you’d like to eavesdrop or peek over my shoulder, the following is my answer to the young man.

Answers to Questions from Robert Hertrich

Hello, Robert, it is good to make contact with you. Yes, I’d be happy to answer your questions and they will follow these few comments that I’ll make.

First, good luck (viel glück mit ihrem project).

So, you are from Weimar, Thuringia. It is an interesting part of Germany. My background is German on my father’s side. My grandfather Leck came from Germany (Bremerhaven) where he worked in the ship building trades. My grandmother (Emma Vey) came with her parents from Bavaria.

I have been to Germany a number of times and I have enjoyed traveling there. I am 71 years old now and I want to make one more trip to Germany so I can visit the small village of Leck that is up near the border of Denmark.

I have recently finished reading a biography on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), a German theologian. It was written by an American, Eric Metaxas. It is an extremely good book and only one of many I have read about Bonhoeffer. I consider myself something of a Bonhoeffer expert and have always admired the man’s courage and consistency of faith. I hope you know of him. He was one of the church’s great heroes during the period of the Third Reich in Germany.

Forgive me for rambling and now for answering your questions slightly out of order.

Your question two (2) is:
Who or what influenced you the most in fighting for the rights of Afroamerican people? [
Wer oder was hat sie am meisten im kampf für die rechte der Afroamerikanischen menschen?]

Bonhoeffer had a very strong influence on me. In 1963 and 1964, after finishing college, I was studying in a theological school and hoping to become a pastor. During that school term, I took a class in “Christian Ethics” and there was a great deal of conversation about the pitiable situation of the African-Americans in the southern states here in America. Our lecturer spoke a great deal about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his incredible courage in Germany. Bonhoeffer had studied theology in Berlin and also under the famous theologian, Karl Barth, in Göttingen. As I remember it from so many years ago, we were assigned to read two of Bonhoeffer’s books, Ethics and another called The Cost of Discipleship. In the former, Bonhoeffer urges us to give up concentrating on the two usual ethical questions: (1) How can I be good? (2) How can I do something good? Instead he encourages us to look at an enormously different question: What is the will of God?

What is the will of God?
I was very taken by this idea and the possibility of applying it to all one’s acts and actions.

In that second book, Bonhoeffer concentrates on what it takes to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and on the entire concept of grace as it ought to be understood. I won’t go on with this, I promise you, but it is important for you to understand what gave me motivation (and it is also important for me to write it after all these years). Bonhoeffer affirmed that, indeed, God’s grace is freely given to us. He is afraid, however, that this idea of “free grace” will then be confused as “cheap grace.” NO! It is quite the opposite, he writes. To accept God’s grace and to choose to follow Jesus Christ is extremely costly. The cost of discipleship is frighteningly expensive; for it requires our lives.

To the fishermen, Jesus had said: “Put down you nets and come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” As Bonhoeffer explains it, the call from our Lord asks us to give up our life as we know it and come take the difficult road and follow him.”

I wrote about Bonhoeffer in a 2007 blog: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945).

Bonhoeffer was a complete pacifist but, as a Pastor during the rise of the Third Reich in Germany, he was forced to consider the question about whether he could kill Adolph Hitler if the occasion arose. You see? Now you can understand the question about the will of God. One doesn’t ask: How can I be good? Nor does one ask: How can I do something right? The only question is: What is the will of God?

As you know from your study of history, a number of assassination attempts on Adloph Hitler failed. Bonhoeffer and a military organization he belonged to (das Abwehr) were behind a number of those attempts. For that, Bonhoeffer was imprisoned in 1943 and he was executed in 1945, just a few days before the allies arrived at his prison to set free those who were held there.

Okay, Robert, here is what influenced me to go to Mississippi (in America’s Deep South) and fight “for the rights of Afro-American people.”

In that ethics class, we spoke a great deal about what was happening in Mississippi, Alabama and the Carolinas. In early 1964, when the Mississippi Voter Registration project for the summer was announced, we began to talk about it in our class. Our professor, James B. Nelson, announced that he was going as a representative of the National Council of Churches in America, to act as an observer and a facilitator of communications between the arriving freedom workers and the white citizens of the state (the Citizens’ Councils). He wondered if any students were willing to go along to help on that project.

Many of us thought about making this trip, but, for many reasons, I was the only one to accept the professor’s invitation. I had great respect for this teacher. He was incredibly brilliant and had studied at Yale under some very well known theologians. He was also a very kind, loving and gentle person. Somehow, I felt quite awful that no one was accepting his invitation (or was it a challenge?) to go to Mississippi. Because I had no job lined up for that summer, while classes were out, and because I could financially afford it, I volunteered.

So, briefly, here is the answer to your question number two (2): I think my motivation and inspiration came from both my professor, Herr Docktor Nelson, and from Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his writings. [Ich war von der guten Herr Docktor Nelson and von Dietrich Bonhoeffer and sine schriften inspiriert.]

I had not asked the Bonhoeffer question: What is the will of God? Instead, I said: “I can afford it. I’ve got nothing better to do. I should go! Yet, the bravery of Bonhoeffer and the kindness of my good professor were my inspirations.

Your question number one (1) is: When did my interest in the Civil Rights Movement begin? [Wann hat mein interesse an der Bürgerrechtsbewegung zu beginnen?]

As a small boy I grew up in a very rural, little community. It was really an all white town. I remember my father using words that would not be acceptable today to talk of other races and types of people – words like waps (Italians), kikes (jews), spics (Puertoricans) and niggers (blacks or African Americans). Somehow, even as a boy, I could sense that there was something wrong with these words and that they were disrespectful. I do not know how I came to believe so early that all people deserved to be treated with utter respect and that no people of any particular nationality or color should be considered better or worse than anyone else. I do not know it with a certainty, but this value may have been instilled in me at the church I attended with nearly perfect regularity. Though my parents were not regular attendees, they insisted that I never miss Sunday religious classes. I was very enamored by the Pastors who served in that church as I grew up; and I became quite close friends with each of them. To this day I consider they were a great, great influence and inspiration on my life and behavior.

Suddenly two black young men (brothers) appeared on the scene in my little town. They, like my two brothers, were six or seven years older than I. These two African-American, young guys were treated generally okay, but occasionally I would witness very negative and unkind reactions to them. One of my brothers was an enormously strong guy, who could be very tough. I remember him being a great defender of these two brothers and he would take on anyone who acted disrespectfully toward them.

It was this early, when I was ten (10) or eleven (11) years old that I began to have concerns about racial injustice. Then, when I was fourteen (14), following an order by the U.S. Supreme Court, the federal government tried to desegregate the schools of the American south. There was a terrible and violent reaction among white people in the south. President Dwight David Eisenhower had to send military troops into Arkansas to force the Governor of that State to allow African American children into the white schools. This story was in all the newspapers and was talked about at our school and all over our town. I was very much influenced by this moment in our history and I knew that I personally stood on the side of the black race in America and I couldn’t understand how anyone could not.

So, the short answer to your question is that I grew interested in the questions of Civil Rights very early in my life (around 10 or 11 years of age).

Your question number three (3) is: How and where did you become active during the Movement and what exactly did you do (sit-ins, marches, ...)? [Wie und wo haben sie sich während der Bürgerrechtsbewegung und was genau haben sie getan?]

The trip to Mississippi was the beginning of my active involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. I arrived at the railroad station in Canton, Mississippi on 21 June 1964 (it is a very important date in the history of the Civil Rights Movement). My first act of defiance – or act of protest – was to go into the waiting room at the station (bahnhof) that was clearly marked “Colored People Only!” I tell that story of the Mississippi experience and my work there in a series of six blogs that begin with Remembering the Sixties [].

After that experience in 1964, I still had to complete graduate school, and I was involved in civil rights activities mostly in the summers, when school was closed. In the summer of 1965 I was involved with activities in Chicago for a couple of weeks when that became a very volatile racial situation. I participated in marches and protests to try to secure more freedom for African-Americans in that city. In the fall of 1966, now ordained by the Church, I became a pastor of a church in a primarily black section of the city of Minneapolis, in Minnesota. I was very active in both civil rights work and anti-Vietnam War protests for the three years that I served as pastor of that church. In the summer of 1967 my congregation gave me a period of time off so I could return to Chicago to protest with Jesse Jackson in a program he had organized called Operation Bread Basket – an attempt to get more jobs for black people in Hi Low Grocery Stores in black neighborhoods. I also had an opportunity then to meet the famous community organizer, Saul Alinksky, and I attended classes that Alinsky taught about how to organize people to make change in their lives and living conditions.

In 1970 I discontinued my work as a pastor and took my activities in a more political direction. I worked on projects for Civil Rights (including many marches and sit-ins) and on activities that protested America’s war in Vietnam. I thoroughly opposed that war and, beginning in 1968, I got very involved in the political fight to stop it.

Your question number four (4) is: Do you think that the president did everything in his power to better the situation at the time? [Do sie denken, dass der Präsident alles in seiner macht getan, um die situation an der zeit besser?]

The answer to such a question, if thorough, would have to be long and complicated. I’ll try to make it extraordinarily brief and, in so doing, I’ll probably make it a bit too simplistic.

In my view, the modern civil rights movement started in the 1950s while Dwight David Eisenhower was the President of the United States. Prior to that Eisenhower had been, as you probably know, a great American war hero who was the commander of Allied Forces in the war in Europe against the Nazis. Desegregation of the schools of the South was the great civil rights issue during Eisenhower’s time. The Supreme Court of the U.S. had ruled that the southern schools must be desegregated. It fell upon Eisenhower’s shoulders to make sure that happened. In my view, Eisenhower did an outstanding job. It was hard on him and he tried to avoid it, but he was eventually compelled to send military troops into Arkansas to get the job of integration done. It would take two more decades before the schools of the South were truly integrated and a number of presidents would have to deal with this problem.

I think the next president, John F. Kennedy, also did a good job with moving the south toward desegregation. I believe it is one of the things that cost him his life. He was very unpopular in the South and among libertarians. Kennedy’s successor was Lyndon Baines Johnson and he served from 1964 through 1968. Johnson did a very good job with the Civil Rights questions and I think I would give him a top grade for his accomplishments.

Richard M. Nixon took office in 1969 and racial questions were subsiding as the Vietnam War became the most controversial issue of his presidency. On the question of race, however, I would give President Nixon a failing grade for being so much less supportive of these issues than he should have been. He did not think highly of Martin Luther King, Jr. (the great African-American leader of the freedom movement in America). He could have done much more.

Your question number five (5) is: Do you think the Civil Rights Movement changed the people in the USA in a positive or negative way or didn´t it influence the people? [Glauben sie, dass das Civil Rights Movement verändert die menschen in den USA in einem positiven oder negativen weise oder nicht beeinflussen sie die menschen?

Robert, this is an extraordinary question; however, there is no single answer to it. The movement changed many, many people in the U.S.A. in both ways. For instance, it had a remarkable impact on me and altered my life enormously. Some of the ways it changed me were very positive; while others were clearly negative. My attitudes about race were altered very positively and I came to understand things about race and race relations that I never would have understood had I not spent so much time with African-Americans in their own settings (Sitz im Leben). On the other hand, it disrupted and weakened my own family life (fortunately, that has all turned out very well now) and caused some degree of personal pain. Some people stopped being my friend because of my activities; but, on the other hand, I made many new friends I wouldn’t have made otherwise.

Of course, major changes were made in the lives of black people. Would we ever have elected an African-American to the Presidency of our nation if the civil rights movement had not happened? I don’t think so.

Did some people become even more hateful of people of color because of the movement? I am certain so.

But, measured on the large scale and in balance of good and bad, I do think (yes) the civil rights movement changed America in a good and positive way. Racism is still real and alive in America, but it is not so blatant and the new protections of the law are helpful in assuring a higher degree of equal justice for all people.

Your question number six (6) is: Are there any results of the Civil Rights Movement to be seen in the USA today? [Gibt es irgendwelche ergebnisse des Civil Rights Movement in den USA zu sehen ist heute?]

Oh, my goodness yes! I could not possibly list them all for you; however, you can begin with President Barrack Obama. Would we have elected an African-American to the highest office in our land without the civil rights movement? Absolutely not!

Our public schools, colleges and universities are now integrated. When I was a young man, Negroes were not allowed into the hotels and motels in which I stayed. Recall my mention earlier of my first protest act in the Civil Rights Movement – I entered a waiting room designated for “colored people only.” There are no such things now. African-Americans in the South had to use drinking fountains (for water) that were designated for them only. In the South, they couldn’t sit at a lunch counter or even enter most restaurants that were designated for “whites only.” It was rare for a man or woman of color to be elected into important political offices. Now the Congress of the United States is significantly represented by people of all colors. African-Americans may eat in any restaurant they please and they are members of our exclusive country clubs and social clubs. No hotel restricts them. It is totally illegal to do so. There are thousands of black lawyers, medical doctors, college professors and many very successful black business leaders.

This doesn’t mean to say there is no racism left in America. There certainly is, but in another generation or two even most subtle racism and prejudice will begin to decrease to very, very small incidents.

Your question number seven (7) is: Do you think Barrack Obama and the government are doing everything they can for Afro-Americans? [Glauben sie, dass Barrack Obama und die regierung alles tun, sie können für Afroamerikaner?]

Robert, the question today is much less racial and now significantly more economic. African-Americans and Native Americans today still are too heavily represented in the lower economic classes. In other words, these non-whites continue to make up too large a percentage of those who live in poverty and poor economic conditions. Why? This is a tough question with which our nation continues to struggle.

Education is Key!
My personal opinion is that we must do a much better job in this country of educating those who continue to make up the largest percentage of the poorer classes. All statistics show that there is an unacceptable gap in the quality of education between white people and people of color. In America we have come to believe, as Germany has always believed, that education is the key to personal success and national success. We must figure out how to educate our people more thoroughly and in a manner that will enable them to achieve personal success and achieve levels of employment that will be satisfactory to them. Enabling people to become more personally successful will also enable the nation to be stronger and more healthy economically.

Well, Robert, I think I’ve done it. I was unable to follow your option of just answering very briefly with single words or single sentences. Questions like this are too complex for that and always require qualification and explanation. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed the exercise and I will share all this with my readers on tomorrow’s blog.

Thanks for contacting me and I’d love to hear how you do on your project. I wish you extreme good luck! [Viel glück!] Do you use that expression in Germany?

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